May Term trips still on schedule

by Sharon Albright

All May Term trips are planned to run as scheduled, but this could change at any time leading up to departure, according to Registrar John Bolen.

Bolen said that Simpson College is taking recommendations from the U.S. State Department as the ultimate factor in trip cancellations, which supports the policies of most travel companies.

“We’ve always had the policy that if the U.S. State Department says a specific country is not safe for Americans, and one of our trips is going to that country, then we will cancel the trip,” Bolen said.

Bolen keeps up-to-date on travel recommendations through the Internet, and he anticipates that the travel companies are also anxiously doing the same.

“The travel warnings page is updated daily,” Bolen said. “In working with professional tour companies, they have certain rules concerning refunds and cancellations. And, the rule of thumb all companies follow is that if the U.S. State Department says Americans should not be traveling abroad, they will cancel the trips and be more flexible with refunds.”

While travel companies may be “more flexible” with some refunds, students are in a position to lose a significant amount of money if their trips are cancelled without the recommendation of the State Department. But, Bolen says, safety, as opposed to money, is the bottom line.

“We have an obligation to do the smart thing,” Bolen said. “We have an obligation to use whatever information we have at our disposal to make a responsible decision in considering the safety of our students and also our faculty and staff who are leading the trips.”

Bolen said a major reassurance right now is that the trip leaders have many years of experience taking students overseas for May Term. These leaders either have taken the same trip before or have established strong connections in the area where they plan to travel.

Lora Friedrich, professor of sociology, is one of the leaders for the Thailand trip. Friedrich actually lived in Thailand for three years while serving in the Peace Corps, and also led a student trip there in 1999.

Friedrich said that her familiarity with the country and the language, along with her on-going communication with friends and others living in Thailand, makes her feel comfortable about introducing a new group of students to the culture.

“I’ve worked really hard to make this trip safe, as well as a good intellectual experience for everyone,” Friedrich said.

The Thailand group will spend most of their time in the north and south of the country, with a fairly short stop in Bangkok. According to Friedrich, the group is steering clear of typical “western tourist stops” in order to get a better cultural experience.

“For the most part, I feel really safe there,” Friedrich said. “One of the residuals of the Vietnam War is that these people really seem to love Americans and act somewhat protective of them.”

Friedrich describes Thai people as “an incredibly generous culture.” Though five students dropped from the trip last Tuesday, Friedrich said she feels assured that the trip will be a valuable experience for everyone who gets to go.

“I am excited to introduce new people to this culture that I have fallen in love with,” Friedrich said. Friedrich will have help from a Thai friend of hers, who plans to spend part of the trip with the Simpson group that is co-led by Nicolas Proctor, assistant professor of history.

Fred Jones, professor of criminal justice and trip leader to Italy and Greece, is also taking steps to insure the comfort and safety of the students enrolled in this trip.

“I have a close friend in Italy who I’ve been keeping in contact with,” said Jones. “He feels that it is safe there now for American tourists and that they have generally been well-received across the country.”

Despite this, Jones suggests that student travelers follow a few precautions to prevent putting themselves in the face of conflict.

“I’m preparing my students by asking that they don’t draw attention to themselves and try to stay low-key,” Jones said.

He recommends that students keep their dress appropriate and not enter American-owned businesses, which might be targeted as hostile ground. Lastly, he asks students to keep their opinions to themselves in respect of their host people.

“Regardless of student’s positions on the war, it’s not their responsibility to defend, or not defend, George W. Bush,” Jones said.

Bolen puts faith in these experienced trip leaders, as well as others.

“When I look at the tours, I look at the tour leaders and the caliber of leadership and number of years of experience that they have traveling abroad, and I am not worried,” Bolen said.

However, Bolen says that he does respect any fears or concerns parents or students might have at this time. But, in his opinion, we must take a critical look at how we allow ourselves to be affected by the actions of a few.

“Here is my concern; while it is using your head to be cautious, what I don’t want to see others do is capitulate to the fear tactics of terrorists and allow yourself to live in such fear that you can’t function,” Bolen said.

Though having said that, Bolen emphasizes that it is best to err on the side of caution. So, Simpson, along with other small schools around Iowa, will continue to listen to recommendations of the State Department in order to prevent sending students or trip leaders into harm’s way.

Considering the current state of global affairs, do you think Simpson’s May Term trips abroad should go ahead as scheduled?

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